Assistant Professor

Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences

Undergraduate Chair, Science, Technology & Society

365 Cohen

Curriculum Vitæ


Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
M.A. Stanford University
A.B. Harvard University

Etienne Benson is a historian of the environmental sciences, environmentalism, and human-animal relationships in the 19th and 20th centuries. His book Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) showed how the use of electronic surveillance technologies to study and manage wildlife in the United States since the 1960s challenged widespread understandings of wildness and wilderness. He has also published shorter studies of urban squirrels, national parks, environmental satellites, electric power transmission, animal history, endangered species protection, movement ecology, ecological simulation, and other subjects. He is currently pursuing two book-length projects: one tracing the history of environmental ideas and environmentalisms since the late 18th century, the other exploring the role of the built landscape in generating ideas of human-animal difference. At Penn he teaches courses on the history of technology, environmental history, and posthumanism.

Research Interests

History of the environmental sciences
History of environmentalism
Animal history
History of technology

Selected Work

Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)

“Generating Infrastructural Invisibility: Insulation, Interconnection, and Avian Excrement in the Southern California Power Grid,” Environmental Humanities 6 (2015): 103-130.  

“Trackable Life: Data, Sequence, and Organism in Movement Ecology,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 57 (2016): 137-147.

"The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States," Journal of American History 110, no. 3 (December 2013).

"Demarcating Wilderness and Disciplining Wildlife: Radiotracking Large Carnivores in Yellowstone and Chitwan National Parks," in Civilizing Nature: National Parks in Global Historical Perspective, ed. Bernhard Gißibl, Sabine Höhler, and Patrick Kupper (New York: Berghahn, 2012), pp. 173-188.

"Endangered Science: The Regulation of Research by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts," Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 42, no. 1 (2012): 30-61.

"One Infrastructure, Many Global Visions: The Commercialization and Diversification of Argos, a Satellite-Based Environmental Surveillance System," Social Studies of Science 42, no. 6 (2012): 846-71.

"Autonomous Biological Sensor Platforms," Cabinet 41 (Spring 2011): 74-78.

"From Wild Lives to Wildlife and Back," Environmental History 16, no. 3 (2011): 418-422.

"A Difficult Time with the Permit Process," Journal of the History of Biology 44, no. 1 (2011): 103-123.

"Animal Writes: Historiography, Disciplinarity, and the Animal Trace," in Making Animal Meaning, ed. Linda Kalof and Georgina Montgomery (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011): 3-16.

Teaching Fields

History of technology, environmental history, history of ecology and environmental sciences, animal studies, posthumanism

Courses Taught

STSC 003: Technology and Society
STSC 168: Environment and Society
STSC 169: Engineering Planet Earth
STSC 260: Cyberculture
HSSC 505: Seminar in the History and Sociology of Science
HSSC 565: Environmental History
HSSC 588: Humanities Beyond the Human

Faculty Bookshelf